Few years ago, when I started working in digital media, conventional wisdom went something like this: If we create more articles, we get more pageviews and earn more ad revenue.
The same went with video – more videos (we thought) meant more views, and that would mean more video ad revenue.
A simple, easy, and completely stupid strategy. We know better today.
Less is better, sometimes even more
Also last year, Digiday published a widely circulated piece on how publishers are growing audiences by producing less content. It gave examples of how The Guardian, News UK’s The Times of London and Le Monde have trimmed the number of articles they publish. This led to a growth in audience traffic, increased time spent on the site. In turn, this led to more subscribers.
Media analyst Thomas Baekdal wrote an extensive report called “Why producing less news leads to a boost in subscriptions.” If you’re thinking of running such an analysis at home, I really recommend reading it.
The theory is quite simple: analyze all your content, sort articles into different groups according to their return (drives a lot of page views, a lot of time spent, sells a lot of subscriptions). At the bottom of that excel file you will find those underperforming pieces.
Once you identify clusters of underperformers you can act on that intelligence and make your reporting better, cut where needs to be and strengthen your overperformers (hint: if you publish many press releases, you will most likely find them all at the bottom of that excel file).
I have seen reports that even small newsrooms that conducted such analyses, and cut the type of articles that typically got below 1,000 pageviews, increased the average pageview metric, and almost got rid of articles below 1,000.
I recently went through something similar with my newsroom. Even though I cannot share details (at least yet), the results were overwhelming.
As in the case of previously mentioned news sites, the analysis shows all the places that need trimming. You can see the authors who produce too much content with little effect. As important, you can see topics of interest that drive subscriptions but get too few resources.
I cannot recommend this enough to anyone working in a “content production machine,” such as a news portal, company blog or even PR company. (Incidentally, if you are paying a PR firm to produce content for you, you should use this to check how well they are doing their job.) Try to really look at how much interest there is for your output (that includes podcasts, videos…)
The curious case of Dennik N
The Slovak news startup Dennik N recently turned six and for a few years now I have been curiously waiting for their end of the year infographics. The most recent one dropped at the end of December.
Since their business model is solely dependent on news subscriptions they watch paid articles closely. So in the infographics they provide each year the average length of the paid article.
Since they started publishing, the average length has been increasing and until last year the overall number of articles has been decreasing each following year.
Tomas Bella, the head of digital for Denník N, has been explaining this on social media for years. As he explains, subscribers want long articles, are willing to pay for them and they keep reading them.
Meanwhile, Denník N keeps growing their subscriber base.
I work for a competing newspaper in Slovakia and from time to time, when my wife gets two notifications, one by Denník N and one by my paper on the same topic, and reads them both.
Then, she likes to tell me that the longer piece by Denník N was more insightful and she learned more.